Balance Disorders Can Affect Everyone
Every minute of every day, another person falls and fractures a bone or hip. Accidental falls are a major concern as our population ages. Many falls happen due to balance disorders. Most of those who have a balance disorder problem are totally unaware of it and the problem can affect women and men of any age. Everyone experiences up to a 5 percent loss of balance every decade starting from the age of 20, which means by age 60, we can experience a 25 percent loss of balance.
Balance disorders interfere with a person’s daily activities, including the ability to work or travel, and may result in a higher risk of falling. Balance disorders can be caused by a number of underlying issues including neurological, vestibular or proprioceptive. Your balance system relies on information received by the brain from three peripheral sources: the eyes, muscles and joints and vestibular organs in your inner ear.
Our visual system works with our vestibular system to keep objects from blurring when our head moves and to keep us aware of our position when we walk or ride in a vehicle. Sensory receptors in our joints and muscles also help maintain our balance when standing still or walking.
The brain receives, interprets and processes the information from these systems to control our balance.
What causes a balance disorder?
A balance disorder may be caused by viral or bacterial infections in the ear, a head injury or blood circulation disorders that affect the inner ear or brain. Many people experience problems with their sense of balance as they age. Balance problems and dizziness also can result from taking certain medications. Episodes of vertigo can last a short time or for days. When combined with changes in head position, they are a primary sign of a vestibular dysfunction.
Some common symptoms of a balance problem include:
- Loss of balance, falling or feeling as if you might fall
- Vertigo, which is the sensation of spinning
- Disequilibrium, faintness, unsteadiness or a sensation of floating
- Postural instability
- Blurred vision, confusion, disorientation
Treatment of Balance Disorders
Identifying balance disorders includes a series of screening tests including posturography, which is a specialized clinical assessment of your balance in both normal and abnormal conditions. Diagnostic tests include accurate, non-invasive videonystagmography (VNG) testing to determine if an inner ear deficit may be causing a balance or dizziness problem. A qualified doctor will prescribe treatment based on symptoms, medical history, general health, a physical exam and diagnostic test results.
FACTS ABOUT FALLS:
- 40 percent of the population will fall during their lifetime—this risk increases with age
- 60 percent of closed head trauma patients report dizziness
- 20 percent of the population have a unilateral vestibular loss
- 50 percent of all adults 65+ have a vestibular problem
- 40 percent of adults 65+ will experience a fall annually
- 50 percent of first-time fallers will have repeated falls
- Falls are the leading cause of injury-related deaths among seniors
- Dizziness and loss of balance are within the top three most common reasons for physician visits by the elderly
- Falls are the NUMBER ONE reason for skilled nursing facility admissions for ages 65 and older
- Falls are the leading cause for both fatal and non-fatal injuries in the elderly
- Falls are most common cause of death in the elderly over age 75
- There are more than 350,000 hip fractures annually in the United States; costs are estimated at $20 billion
- The American Geriatric Society recommends all individuals 55 and older should be screened for balance problems